*Now showing in cinemas worldwide.
It is something when a new Tom Cruise movie makes one yearn for Brendan Fraser, but there you go.
The Mummy, directed by studio film template generator Alex Kurtzman and starring Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe and Sofia Boutella as the titular monster, is the first film in Universal’s Dark Universe, a supposed reimagining of Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters line-up (think Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) from gothic horror to blockbuster action. What it really means is that it’s an attempt from Universal to blatantly cash into the cinematic universe gravy train since upheld by Marvel, and recently invigorated by DC’s Wonder Woman. Judging from this first entry alone, the Dark Universe seems destined to die in a Big Rip.
Following both opening scrolling text and narration clichés, the story really begins in modern-day Mesopotamia… I mean insurgent-filled Northern Iraq, proving that no real-world conflict proves tasteless when it comes to Hollywood’s money-making machine. There, tomb raider Nick Morton (Cruise), his partner-in-crime Chris Vail (Johnson), and archeologist Jenny Halsey (Wallis) discover something-that-is-not-meant-to-be-discovered, and naturally, takes it out and ships it back to London for scrutinizing. That something is the sarcophagus housing the remains of a murderous Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Boutella), who offed her Pharoah father and his direct lineage, after selling her soul to Set, the God of Darkness (providing last year’s Gods of Egypt proves accurate). Power, y’see. Needless to say, once that coffin is up in the air, the Hollywood action sequence template kicks in with the crash sequence so prominently featured in the trailers, and it only gets more predictable from there.
Look, I’m getting sick and tired of all this cinematic universe crap. Marvel holds the flagship on that one, but their first entry, 2008’s Iron Man (and 2013’s Man of Steel for the DC crowd) did something that other films attempting the whole universe-building thing today (including this) fails at: actually tell a story without easter-egging it with references and exposition promising future entries. By the time Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry (not revealing his last name) is done droning on about the purpose of his secret organization (which I guarantee you is the S.H.I.E.L.D. for the Dark Universe), I had all but checked out. Only Boutella seems to know what movie this really belongs in, but she needs a better agent.
Another sin spawning from this universe-building fiasco is trying to relieve it with comic relief. The 1998 blockbuster featuring Fraser had some good laughs, mostly because they were situational and came out of genuine love for the characters. Here, nearly every action sequence or jump scare is punctuated with an out-of-place one-liner, with Johnson being its biggest, most grating offender. It’s as if the six-writer (count them) -template made it clear to throw a comic line here and there to make sure the film is “balanced” and “appropriate” in tone, to make it, y’know, not too scary for the PG-13 audience. As a result, the film feels completely tone-deaf and does not know which side of the audience to ponder on the most.
An even bigger sin is not having the film set in Egypt. Call it cultural or location appropriation, but that’s one of the reasons why the 1998 Mummy worked: large orangey sand dunes, ominous and pitch-black catacombs, creepy scarab beetles (sorely missed here), the 1930s period setting, the late Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent adventurous score, Fraser’s mean Indy impression and Arnold Vosloo embracing his big bad bald mummy with relish – everything worked on that one. Here it’s dark, gloomy London playing host to most of the action sequences, with composer Brian Tyler trying hard to evoke the gothic score of the classic films before destroying his own goodwill with monotonous action cues.
Cruise remains a good action star, and he is one of the few that’s willing to risk doing his own stunts for the sake of entertainment, while never losing that renowned charisma. He’s no exception here as he rumbles and pummels his way through Ahmanet’s evil hordes (which look and move like discount versions of Michael Jackson’s Thriller zombies) and CGI sandstorms devastating London and its citizens with careless aplomb. I understand sometimes that the man needs his action fix for God knows what, but he needs to take a chill pill and realize that, sometimes, not all scripts work.
Rating: [★★] out of [★★★★★]